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How Do I Unsubscribe from All These Unwanted Emails?

There are some you absolutely should not.

There are emails from which you should certainly unsubscribe if you no longer want them. However, there are emails that you absolutely should never unsubscribe from. I'll review the difference.
Unsubscribe or This is Spam?
Question: I am receiving a lot of unwanted e-mails from diet pills to pet supplies and I don’t want to keep deleting 100 e-mails every time I check my mail. I hate going into each e-mail one by one to unsubscribe, and I don’t know how safe it is for me to open those e-mails in the first place. I was wondering, is there an easy free way to unsubscribe without needing to open the e-mail?

I know this is confusing, but it’s important to realize that there are emails you can and should unsubscribe from and emails you absolutely should never, ever unsubscribe from.

I’ll explain why that is and share the relatively simple rules.

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When to unsubscribe

  • Never “unsubscribe” from spam. It will only result in more spam.
  • Unsubscribe from things you originally subscribed to or for which there was a legitimate business relationship.
  • Mark spam as spam. That’s all.

Don’t unsubscribe from spam

What you are getting is most likely spam. Spam is sent to random email addresses. You haven’t been “subscribed” at all. You’re just getting it like many people do: randomly.

This is important: since you haven’t subscribed, there’s nothing to unsubscribe from, even if there’s an “unsubscribe” link. Clicking on that unsubscribe link will not help. In fact, it’ll likely make matters worse.

You might be asking, “If I’m not subscribed, why is there an unsubscribe link?”

Spammers lie.

As I said, spam is sent out at random to email addresses. Some are legitimate email accounts and some are not. The act of clicking that “unsubscribe” link confirms to the spammer that your email address is a real, valid email address with a real person reading it.

From the spammer’s perspective, it means “We got us a live one!”

And once they know the email address is legitimate, they’ll start sending you MORE spam, not less.

Thus this rule of thumb:

“Unsubscribing” from spam only gets you more spam.

Instead, click on the “This is Spam” (or Junk) button in your email program or interface to get the email out of your inbox and train that service what spam looks like. That helps the service better identify spam in the future and is by far the safest, most effective approach to dealing with spam using tools you already have at your disposal.

But what about email to which you did subscribe and now don’t want to see anymore?

Do unsubscribe from things you asked for

As a newsletter publisher myself, I want to emphasize that when you’re ready to stop receiving a legitimate mailing, a mailing that you subscribed to, you do want to use the unsubscribe link.

Do not click “This is spam” for legitimate email. When you click on “This is spam” for legitimate email, it may cause other people — people who actually want it — to stop getting it.

Once you unsubscribe, if the unsubscribe request is ignored for long enough — typically a week — then “This is spam” is the only recourse.

Opening email

With most modern email programs, it’s safe to open messages regardless of whether they’re spam. As long as your mail interface doesn’t display images by default (one of the ways that spammers can track you), there’s nothing wrong with taking a peek.

If the email is legitimate, then of course you’ll need to open the email to see and click on the legitimate unsubscribe link.

If you can tell that the email is spam, you don’t need to open it at all. You don’t want to click on any links within, so there’s no need. Mark it as spam and move on.

Do this

The rules are simple.

  • If you subscribed to a newsletter, clicked “Yes, send me more info”, or have some kind of business relationship with the entity sending you email (such as having purchased something from them in the past), then it’s probably legitimate mail, and you should use the unsubscribe link.
  • If you’ve never heard of the sender and have no relationship with whatever is being promoted or discussed in the email, then it’s likely spam, and you should not use the unsubscribe link. Use “This is spam” instead.

It’s unfortunate we even have to think about these things, but the fact is, spam continues to be a problem. Fortunately, a few moments of thought (“Is this email legitimate?”) and the simple rules above should make it fairly clear when it is and is not safe to unsubscribe.

1 thought on “How Do I Unsubscribe from All These Unwanted Emails?”

  1. I am in a variation of SPAM hell. Several years ago, my email address was included with a friend who’s bank login was hacked. The hackers apparently used a web server that had a long list of openly subscribable distribution lists. Retail merchants, churches, community newsletters, etc. Most appeared to be smaller web sites which probably didn’t have good web designer skills to include a subscription verification mechanism, such as a positive response to confirm the subscription.
    At the time, the hackers accomplished their goal – the bank notifications that my friend’s email address was being changed and confirming a very large transfer were obfuscated by the massive SPAM volume he was receiving, mostly welcoming him to new lists, when it happened. Fortunately, the bank was on top of potential threats and called him before making the transfer. The onslaught of SPAM subsided after a few days. For me, it was a gmail account that was included in the SPAM onslaught and even several years later, in spite of a generally very good SPAM filtering mechanism which I routinely train, I periodically get a new series of SPAM emails, often welcoming me to a new retailer list.
    As far as I can tell, most of these retailers and other organizations are real. They are often in foreign countries, and usually target local customers with their email content.
    Depending on my available time, I do sometimes take the time to “Unsubscribe” from these lists since the retailer or organization appears to be an unwitting victim of having my email added to their subscription list. When I have a batch of these emails and I use the Gmail ‘SPAM’ button, there is usually an option to “unsubscribe and mark as SPAM”. I know that using an “Unsubscribe” link can sometimes do more harm than good, giving a system a positive verification that I am a real person, but so many of these lists appear to be handled by reputable emailing tools that it seems better to get myself permanently on their do-not-email list.
    I wish there was a better way to reach out to web site administrators and designers to educate them on the need for a positive confirmation for new subscriptions. I am sure their “subscribe” buttons have been recorded to servers all over the internet as a tool for hackers to inundate unwitting consumers.


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